Korean Culture in Media: Movies

You may have noticed from my Saturday music video series that I’m a fan of K-pop, or Korean pop music.  I’ve started getting into other Korean media as well, including movies and TV shows; it’s very easy now thanks to the Internet.  It’s been really fascinating, because in addition to being good entertainment, I’ve been learning a lot about Korean culture.  Some things obliquely touched on by these shows include:

  • societal views on marriage, homosexuality, and gender roles
  • Korean relations with and attitudes towards foreign countries (especially Japan, North Korea, the US, and Europe)
  • forms of address
  • social/economic classes
  • food! (types as well as meal customs)

I’ve also learned some basic Korean vocab (yes, no, what, okay, really; I already knew love, crazy, and everyone from K-pop songs).  This is already more than I learned watching LOST for 6 years.


Oldboy (2003) PosterOldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)

This may be the Korean movie best-known to Americans; it is highly acclaimed, having won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.

Describing it in one word, I would say this movie is intense.  Based on a Japanese manga of the same name, it tells the story of Oh Dae-su, a man who is mysteriously imprisoned for 15 years and then just as mysteriously released.  There’s lots of revenge going on all over the place.  The twisted, bloody, violent kind.

Oldboy keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time, and the ending will make you want to watch it again right away.  One famous scene is particular is the “hallway fight scene” where Oh Dae-su takes on a group of thugs, and the action travels in one shot down the hallway for almost 3 min, with the men getting more and more exhausted.  You can see its influence in many other movies; many people thought of it when viewing the hallway fight scene in the recent Daredevil show.

Commitment (2013) PosterCommitment (Park Hong-soo, 2013)

I admit, I only watched this because it happened to be on Netflix and I saw that it starred Choi Seung-hyun, better know as rapper T.O.P from the K-pop group BIGBANG.

It turned out to be a very enjoyable action spy thriller, quite entertaining if a bit generic.  T.O.P’s character is the son of a failed North Korean operative who is then himself sent into the field to basically atone for his father’s failure, but gets caught between rival North Korean cabals as well as South Korean intelligence.

I was looking forward to listening to T.O.P’s beautiful low voice for several hours, but his character ironically turned out to be rather taciturn.  I thought he was pretty good in the role; I probably 90% believed his action scenes.

Tomorrow we’ll be talking Korean TV shows!

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